Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Golden Lily Chapter 14

â€Å"OH, LORD,† I SAID. â€Å"What's wrong?† asked Brayden. â€Å"Is everything okay?† â€Å"Hard to say.† I put the phone back in my purse. â€Å"I hate to do this, but I have to go take care of something outside. I'll be back as quickly as I can.† â€Å"Do you want me to go with you?† I hesitated. â€Å"No, it's okay.† I had no idea what to expect out there. It was best if Brayden wasn't subjected to it. â€Å"I'll hurry.† â€Å"Sydney, wait.† Brayden caught hold of my arm. â€Å"This†¦ this is the song you requested, isn't it?† The one we'd been dancing to had just ended, and a new one was on – or, well, an old one. It was about thirty years old. I sighed. â€Å"Yes. It is. I'll be fast, I promise.† The temperature outside was pleasant, warm but not oppressively so. We were allegedly due for a rare bit of rain. As I walked toward the parking lot, some of Wolfe's lessons came back to me. Check your surroundings. Watch for people lurking near cars. Stay in the light. Make sure to – â€Å"Adrian!† All reasonable thoughts vanished from my head. Adrian was lying on my car. I ran over to Latte as fast as the dress would allow me. â€Å"What are you doing?† I demanded. â€Å"Get off of there!† I automatically checked for dents and scratches. Adding insult to injury, Adrian was actually smoking as he lay on the hood and stared up at the sky. Clouds were moving in, but a half-moon could occasionally be seen. â€Å"Relax, Sage. I won't leave a scratch. Really, this is surprisingly comfortable for a family car. I would've expected – † He turned his head toward me and froze. I had never seen him so still – or so quiet. His shock was so thorough and intense that he actually dropped his cigarette. â€Å"Ahh,† I cried, springing forward, lest the burning cigarette damage the car. It landed harmlessly on the asphalt, and I quickly stamped it out. â€Å"For the last time, will you get off of there?† Adrian slowly sat up, eyes wide. He slid off the hood and didn't seem to leave any marks. Obviously, I'd have to check it later. â€Å"Sage,† he said. â€Å"What are you wearing?† I sighed and stared down at the dress. â€Å"I know. It's red. Don't start. I'm tired of hearing about it.† â€Å"Funny,† he said. â€Å"I don't think I could ever get tired of looking at it.† Those words drew me up short, and a rush of heat went through me. What did he mean? Was I so outlandish-looking that he couldn't stop staring at the crazy spectacle? Surely†¦ surely he wasn't implying that I was pretty†¦ I promptly got back on track, reminding myself that I needed to think about the guy inside, not out here. â€Å"Adrian, I'm on a date. Why are you here? On my car?† â€Å"Sorry to interrupt, Sage. I wouldn't have been on your car if they'd let me into the dance,† he said. A little of his earlier awe had faded, and he relaxed into a more typical Adrian pose, leaning back against Latte. At least he was standing and less likely to do damage. â€Å"Yeah. They generally frown on letting twenty-something guys into high school events. What did you want?† â€Å"To talk to you.† I waited for him to elaborate, but the only response I received was a brief flash of lightning above. It was Saturday, and I'd been around campus all day, during which he could've easily called. He'd known the dance was tonight. Then, inhaling the smell of alcohol that hung in the air around him, I knew nothing he did should really surprise me tonight. â€Å"Why couldn't it have been tomorrow?† I asked. â€Å"Did you really have to come here tonight and – † I frowned and looked around. â€Å"How did you even get here?† â€Å"I took the bus,† he said, almost proudly. â€Å"A lot easier getting here than to Carlton.† Carlton College was where he took art classes, and without his own transportation, he'd come to rely heavily on mass transit – something he'd never done before in his life. I'd been hoping Sonya or Dimitri had dropped him off – meaning they'd pick him up again. But of course that wouldn't happen. Neither one of them would have brought a drunken Adrian here. â€Å"So I guess I have to take you home then,† I said. â€Å"Hey, I got myself here. I'll get myself home.† He started to take out a cigarette, and I gave him a stern headshake. â€Å"Don't,† I said sharply. With a shrug, he put the pack away. â€Å"And I have to take you home. It's going to storm soon. I'm not going to make you walk in the rain.† Another flash of lightning emphasized my words, and a faint breeze stirred the fabric of my dress. â€Å"Hey,† he said, â€Å"I don't want to be an incon – â€Å" â€Å"Sydney?† Brayden came striding across the parking lot. â€Å"Everything okay?† No, not really. â€Å"I'm going to have to leave for a little bit,† I said. â€Å"I have to give my brother a ride home. Will you be okay waiting? It shouldn't be that long.† I felt bad even suggesting it. Brayden didn't really know anyone at my school. â€Å"Maybe you could find Trey?† â€Å"Sure,† said Brayden uncertainly. â€Å"Or I can come with you.† â€Å"No,† I said quickly, not wanting him and drunken Adrian in the car. â€Å"Just go back and have fun.† â€Å"Nice toga,† Adrian told Brayden. â€Å"It's a chiton,† said Brayden. â€Å"It's Greek.† â€Å"Right. I forgot that was tonight's theme.† Adrian gave Brayden an appraising look, glanced over at me, and then turned back to Brayden. â€Å"So. What do you think of our girl's ensemble tonight? Pretty amazing, huh? Like Cinderella. Or maybe a Greek Cinderella.† â€Å"There's really not much about it that's truly Greek,† said Brayden. I winced. I knew he didn't mean to be insensitive, but his words stung a little. â€Å"The dress is historically inaccurate. I mean it's a very nice dress, but the jewelry's anachronistic, and the fabric's nothing that ancient Greek women would have had. Certainly not that color either.† â€Å"What about those other Greek women?† asked Adrian. â€Å"The flashy smart ones.† His forehead wrinkled, as though it were taking every ounce of his brain to come up with the word he wanted. And, to my astonishment, he did. â€Å"The hetaerae.† I honestly hadn't believed he'd retained anything from our conversation in San Diego. I tried not to smile. â€Å"The hetaerae?† Brayden was even more astonished than I was. He gave me a scrutinizing look. â€Å"Yes†¦ yes. I suppose – if such materials were hypothetically possible in that era – that this is something you'd expect to see find on a hetaera instead of the average Greek matron.† â€Å"And they were prostitutes, right?† asked Adrian. â€Å"These hetaerae?† â€Å"Some were,† agreed Brayden. â€Å"Not all. I think the usual term is courtesan.† Adrian was completely deadpan. â€Å"So. You're saying my sister's dressed like a prostitute.† Brayden eyed my dress. â€Å"Well, yes, if we're still speaking in hypothetical – â€Å" â€Å"You know what?† I interrupted. â€Å"We need to go. It's going to rain any minute now. I'll take Adrian home and meet you back here, okay?† I refused to let Adrian continue to play whatever game he had going to torment Brayden – and, by extension, me. â€Å"I'll text you when I'm on my way back.† â€Å"Sure,† said Brayden, not looking very sure at all. He left, and I started to get into the car until I noticed Adrian trying – and failing – to open the passenger side door. With a sigh, I walked over and opened it for him. â€Å"You're drunker than I thought,† I said. â€Å"And I thought you were pretty drunk.† He managed to get his body into the seat, and I returned to my own side just as raindrops splashed on my windshield. â€Å"Too drunk for Jailbait to feel,† he said. â€Å"The bond's numb. She can have an Adrian-free night.† â€Å"That was very thoughtful of you,† I said. â€Å"Though I'm guessing that's not the real reason you were hitting the bottle. Or why you came here. As far as I can tell, all you've accomplished is to mess with Brayden.† â€Å"He called you a prostitute.† â€Å"He did not! You baited him into that.† Adrian ran a hand through his hair and leaned against the window, watching the rapidly unfolding storm outside. â€Å"Doesn't matter. I've decided I don't like him.† â€Å"Because he's too smart?† I said. I remembered Jill and Eddie's earlier comments. â€Å"And unmemorable?† â€Å"Nah. I just think you can do better.† â€Å"How?† Adrian had no answer, and I had to ignore him for a bit as my attention shifted to the road. Storms, while infrequent, could come up fast and furious in Palm Springs. Flash floods weren't uncommon, and the rain was now pouring down in sheets, making visibility difficult. Fortunately, Adrian didn't live that far away. That was a double blessing because, when we were a couple blocks from his apartment, he said: â€Å"I don't feel so well.† â€Å"No,† I moaned. â€Å"Please, please do not get sick in my car. We're almost there.† A minute or so later, I pulled up at the curb outside his building. â€Å"Out. Now.† He obeyed, and I followed with an umbrella for myself. Glancing over at me as we walked to the building, he asked, â€Å"We live in a desert, and you keep an umbrella in your car?† â€Å"Of course I do. Why wouldn't I?† He dropped his keys, and I picked them up, figuring I'd have an easier time unlocking the door. I flipped on the nearest light switch – and nothing happened. We stood there for a moment, together in the darkness, neither of us moving. â€Å"I have candles in the kitchen,† said Adrian, finally taking a few staggering steps in that direction. â€Å"I'll light some.† â€Å"No,† I ordered, having visions of the entire building going down in flames. â€Å"Lie on the couch. Or throw up in the bathroom. I'll take care of the candles.† He opted for the couch, apparently not as sick as he'd feared. Meanwhile, I found the candles – atrocious air freshening ones that smelled like fake pine. Still, they cast light, and I brought a lit one over to him, along with a glass of water. â€Å"Here. Drink this.† He took the glass and managed to sit up long enough to get a few sips. Then, he handed the glass back and collapsed against the couch, draping one arm over his eyes. I pulled up a nearby chair and sat down. The pine candles cast fragile, flickering light between us. â€Å"Thanks, Sage.† â€Å"Are you going to be okay if I leave?† I asked. â€Å"I'm sure the power will be on by morning.† He didn't answer my question. Instead, he said, â€Å"You know, I don't just drink to get drunk. I mean, that's part of it, yeah. A big part of it. But sometimes, alcohol's all that keeps me clearheaded.† â€Å"That doesn't make sense. Here,† I prompted, handing the water back to him. As I did, I cast a quick look at my cell phone's clock, anxious about Brayden. â€Å"Drink some more.† Adrian complied and then continued speaking, arm back over his eyes. â€Å"Do you know what it's like to feel like something's eating away at your mind?† I'd been about to tell him I needed to leave, but his words left me cold. I remembered Jill saying something similar when she was telling me about him and spirit. â€Å"No,† I said honestly. â€Å"I don't know what it's like†¦ but to me, well, it's pretty much one of the most terrifying things I can imagine. My mind, it†¦ it's who I am. I think I'd rather suffer any other injury in the world than have my mind tampered with.† I couldn't leave Adrian right now. I just couldn't. I texted to Brayden: Going to be a little longer than I thought. â€Å"It is terrifying,† said Adrian. â€Å"And weird, for lack of a better word. And part of you knows†¦ well, part of you knows something's not right. That your thinking's not right. But what do you about that? All we can go on is what we think, how we see the world. If you can't trust your own mind, what can you trust? What other people tell you?† â€Å"I don't know,† I said, for lack of a better answer. His words struck me as I thought how much of my life had been guided by the edicts of others. â€Å"Rose once told me about this poem she'd read. There was this line, ‘If your eyes weren't open, you wouldn't know the difference between dreaming and waking.' You know what I'm afraid of? That someday, even with my eyes open, I still won't know.† â€Å"Oh, Adrian, no.† I felt my heart breaking and sat down on the floor near the couch. â€Å"That won't happen.† He sighed. â€Å"At least with the alcohol†¦ it quiets the spirit and then I know if things seem weird, it's probably because I'm drunk. It's not a great reason, but it's a reason, you know? At least you actually have a reason instead of not trusting yourself.† Brayden texted back: How much longer? Irritated, I answered back: Fifteen minutes. I looked back up at Adrian. His face was still covered, though the candlelight did a fair job of illuminating the clean lines of his profile. â€Å"Is that†¦ is that why you drank tonight? Is spirit bothering you? I mean†¦ you seemed to be doing so well the other day†¦Ã¢â‚¬  He exhaled deeply. â€Å"No. Spirit's okay†¦ in as much as it ever is. I actually got drunk tonight because†¦ well, it was the only way I could bring myself to talk to you.† â€Å"We talk all the time.† â€Å"I need to know something, Sage.† He uncovered his face to look at me, and I suddenly realized how close I was sitting. For a moment, I almost didn't pay attention to his words. The flickering dance of shadow and light gave his already good looks a haunting beauty. â€Å"Did you get Lissa to talk to my dad?† â€Å"What? Oh. That. Hang on one second.† Picking up my cell phone, I texted Brayden again: Better make that thirty minutes. â€Å"I know someone got her to do it,† Adrian continued. â€Å"I mean, Lissa likes me, but she's got a lot going on. She wouldn't have just thought one day, ‘Oh, hey. I should call Nathan Ivashkov and tell him how awesome his son is.' You got her to do it.† â€Å"I've actually never talked to her,† I said. I didn't regret my actions at all but felt weird at being called out on them. â€Å"But I, uh, may have asked Sonya and Dimitri to talk to her on your behalf.† â€Å"And then she talked to my old man.† â€Å"Something like that.† â€Å"I knew it,† he said. I couldn't gauge his tone, if it was upset or relieved. â€Å"I knew someone had to have prompted her, and somehow I knew it was you. No one else would have done it for me. Not sure what Lissa told him, but man, she must have really won him over. He was crazy impressed. He's sending me money for a car. And upping my allowance back to reasonable levels.† â€Å"That's a good thing,† I said. â€Å"Isn't it?† My phone flashed with another text from Brayden. The dance will nearly be over by then. â€Å"But why?† Adrian asked. He sat down on the floor beside me. There was an almost distraught look to him. He leaned closer to me and then seemed shocked as he realized what he was doing. He leaned back a little – but only a little. â€Å"Why would you do that? Why would you do that for me?† Before I could answer, another text came in. Will you even be back in time? I couldn't help be annoyed that he wasn't more understanding. Without thinking, I typed back: Maybe you should just leave now. I'll call you tomorrow. Sorry. I flipped the phone over so I wouldn't see any other messages. I looked back at Adrian, who was watching me intently. â€Å"I did it because he wasn't fair to you. Because you deserve credit for what you've done. Because he needs to realize you aren't the person he's always thought you were. He needs to see you for who you really are, not for all the ideas and preconceptions he's built up around you.† The power in Adrian's gaze was so strong that I kept talking. I was nervous about meeting that stare in silence. Also, part of me was afraid that if I pondered my own words too hard, I'd discover they were just as much about my own father and me as Adrian and his. â€Å"It should have been enough for you to tell him who you are – to show him who you are – but he wouldn't listen. I don't like the idea of using others to do things we can do ourselves, but this seemed like the only option.† â€Å"Well,† Adrian said at last. â€Å"I guess it worked. Thank you.† â€Å"Did he tell you how to get in touch with your mother?† â€Å"No. His pride in me apparently didn't go that far.† â€Å"I can probably find out where she is,† I said. â€Å"Or†¦ or Dimitri could, I'm sure. Like you said before, they must let letters in.† He almost smiled. â€Å"There you go again. Why? Why do you keep helping me?† There were a million answers on my lips, everything from It's the right thing to do to I don't know. Instead, I said, â€Å"Because I want to.† This time, I got a true smile from him, but there was something dark and introspective about it. He shifted closer to me again. â€Å"Because you feel bad for this crazy guy?† â€Å"You aren't going to go crazy,† I said firmly. â€Å"You're stronger than you think. The next time you feel that way, find something to focus on, to remind you of who you are.† â€Å"Like what? Got some magic object in mind?† â€Å"Doesn't have to be magic,† I said. I racked my brain. â€Å"Here.† I unfastened the golden cross necklace. â€Å"This has always been good for me. Maybe it'll help you.† I set it in his hand, but he caught hold of mine before I could pull back. â€Å"What is it?† he asked. He looked more closely. â€Å"Wait†¦ I've seen this. You wear this all the time.† â€Å"I bought it a long time ago, in Germany.† He was still holding my hand as he studied the cross. â€Å"No frills. No flourishes. No secret etched symbols.† â€Å"That's why I like it,† I told him. â€Å"It doesn't need embellishment. A lot of the old Alchemist beliefs focused on purity and simplicity. That's what this is. Maybe it'll help you have clarity of mind.† He had been staring at the cross, but now he lifted his gaze to meet mine. Some emotion I couldn't quite read played over his features. It was almost like he'd just discovered something, something troubling to him. He took a deep breath and, his hand still holding mine, pulled me toward him. His green eyes were dark in the candlelight but somehow just as enthralling. His fingers tightened on mine, and I felt warmth spread throughout me. â€Å"Sage – â€Å" The power suddenly came back on, flooding the room with light. Apparently, with no concern for electrical bills, he'd left all the lights on when he went out earlier. The spell was broken, and both of us winced at the sudden brightness. Adrian sprang back from me, leaving the cross in my hand. â€Å"Don't you have a dance or a curfew or something?† he asked abruptly, not looking at me. â€Å"I don't want to keep you. Hell, I shouldn't have bothered you at all. Sorry. I assume that was Aiden texting you?† â€Å"Brayden,† I said, standing up. â€Å"And it's okay. He left, and I'm just going to go back to Amberwood now.† â€Å"Sorry,† he repeated, moving toward the door with me. â€Å"Sorry I ruined your night.† â€Å"This?† I nearly laughed, thinking of all the crazy things I contended with in my life. â€Å"No. It'd take a lot more to ruin my night than this.† I started to take a few steps and then paused. â€Å"Adrian?† He finally looked directly at me, once again nearly knocking me over with his gaze. â€Å"Yeah?† â€Å"Next time†¦ next time you want to talk to me about something – anything – you don't have to drink to work up the courage. Just tell me.† â€Å"Easier said than done.† â€Å"Not really.† I tried for the door again, and this time, he stopped me, resting a hand on my shoulder. â€Å"Sage?† I turned. â€Å"Yeah?† â€Å"Do you know why I don't like him? Brayden?† I was so astonished he'd gotten the name right that I couldn't voice any answers, though several came to mind. â€Å"Because of what he said.† â€Å"What part?† Seeing as Brayden had said many things, in great detail, it wasn't entirely clear which Adrian was referring to. â€Å"‘Historically inaccurate.†Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ Adrian gestured at me with his other hand, the one not on my shoulder. â€Å"Who the hell looks at you and says ‘historically inaccurate'?† â€Å"Well,† I said. â€Å"Technically it is.† â€Å"He shouldn't have said that.† I shifted, knowing I should move away†¦ but I didn't. â€Å"Look, it's just his way.† â€Å"He shouldn't have said that,† repeated Adrian, eerily serious. He leaned his face toward mine. â€Å"I don't care if he's not the emotional type or the complimentary type or what. No one can look at you in this dress, in all that fire and gold, and start talking about anachronisms. If I were him, I would have said, ‘You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen walking this earth.'† My breath caught, both at the words and the way he said them. I felt strange inside. I didn't know what to think, except that I needed to get out of there, away from Adrian, away from what I didn't understand. I broke from him and was surprised to find myself shaking. â€Å"You're still drunk,† I said, putting my hand on the door knob. He tilted his head to the side, still watching me in that same, disconcerting way. â€Å"Some things are true, drunk or sober. You should know that. You deal in facts all the time.† â€Å"Yeah, but this isn't – † I couldn't argue with him looking at me like that. â€Å"I have to go. Wait†¦ you didn't take the cross.† I held it out to him. He shook his head. â€Å"Keep it. I think I've got something else to help center my life.† The Golden Lily: A Bloodlines Novel

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